Saturday, October 5, 2019

Isn't It Romantic Isn't Quite As Creative As It Could Have Been

Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is a cynical soul.Granted, it's hard not to be cynical in 2019, I mean, have you seen how little people in power care about taking the most basic steps to help our planet? But she's especially cynical, particularly in regards to the tropes you'd find in romantic-comedies and also her own self-value. Her life gets thrown for a loop when she bonks her head in the subway during an attempted mugging and ends up stuck in a world adhering to the rules of a romantic-comedy. This means everything is colorful, no F-bomb's can be dropped and every guy in sight, including hunky billionaire Blake (Liam Hemsworth), is in love with her. Natalie soon deduces that the only way she can hope to get back home is through following all the romantic-comedy rules to a tee.

Like Natalie, the script for Isn't It Romantic, penned by a trio of writers including Booksmart scribe Katie Silberman, is all too aware of the go-to cliches for a romantic-comedy. Lady rival in the workplace, kissing in the rain, sex happening off-screen, a gay best friend sidekick in the form of Donny (Brandon Scott Jones), they're all here. However, Isn't It Romantic, unfortunately, doesn't much more with those tropes than just point out they exist. The act of recognizing these staples of any romantic-comedy have their fair share of humorous moments, but I kept wishing Isn't It Romantic could take its killer concept and really run with it rather than settling for jokes that just amount to listing off a TV Tropes page of romantic-comedy cliches.

It doesn't help that the movie kept reminding me of vastly superior films about reality and fantasy realms colliding, Pleasantville and Enchanted. Both of those had their fair share of gags stemming from having the audience recognize familiar moments of certain genres of film/TV storytelling but then they used those gags as a springboard for larger storytelling and humor that really took advantage of what happens when real people have to interact with a very warped version of reality. Isn't It Romantic didn't have to be an exact copy of those two movies to be good but Pleasantville and Enchanted do show how to make the most out of your high-concept premise. Isn't It Romantic could have been either really funny or really thoughtful, or even a mixture of the two, and instead it settles for mostly agreeable.

Thankfully, that's still not a bad place to be as far as comedies go, Lord knows the last few Will Ferrell movies would have been vastly improved if they had been merely "agreeable". Certain recurring jokes, like how supporting character Donny just keeps randomly appearing from out of nowhere, certainly made me chuckle and Betty Gilpin's two different takes on Natalie's best pal Whitney were similarly humorous. Rebel Wilson also makes a fine transition from supporting comic actor to leading lady. Playing the straight figure to the wacky rom-com antics happening around here turns out to be a solid avenue for Wilson to show off her chops in the realm of deadpan line deliveries.

The real weak link in the cast is easily Adam DeVine as a key potential love interest named Josh. He at least tones down on all the yelling that made his performances in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and Game Over, Man! unbearable, but he's still not all that interesting or funny in his performance here. Worse, the few times he's tasked with being serious, he just can't sell it, DeVine always feels like he's two seconds away from busting out a fart joke no matter the scenario. Much more successful in Isn't It Romantic than that supporting performance is the production design and costume work, which have really pulled out all the stops in making sure a romantic-comedy world is awash with vibrant colors.

Such a luscious color palette is captured through Simon Duggan's cinematography, which makes amusing use of intentionally overly extravagant camera movements to underscore key moments for Natalie in the romantic-comedy world. A similar level of delightful effort also goes into the best scene of Isn't It Romantic, a musical number rendition of Whitney Houston's I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Another piece of proof for my theory that every movie would be improved with an elaborate musical number, the dance choreography and editing in this scene are well-executed while a background gag of a bartender just dancing his little heart out had me in hysterics. I wish more of Isn't It Romantic had the fun go-for-broke creativity of this musical number but at least the majority of it ends up on the pleasantly amusing side of things.

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